Opinion | Are the Bengalis Enemy of Northeast?

Are the Bengalis enemy of Northeast
'Gormi Jokhon tutlo na aar pakhar haowa Sarbote – thonda hote daure elum – Shillong namak porbote' - lines from Shillongaer Chiti (Letter of Shillong)

Pranab Kumar Gogoi

In present political scenario, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 became a bone of contention between Assamese and Bengali speaking people in Assam. However, in order to consolidate Hindu vote, the ruling BJP is adding fuel to fire igniting the situation. Unfortunately, the present mass hysteria is driven by emotion, rather logic and historical facts.

It was a day of past, while undivided Assam was an integral part of erstwhile Bengal Presidency. In fact, then Viceroy of India – Lord Curzon was instrumental for partition of Bengal in 20th July, 1905, and thereafter, the solidarity of Bengal is split as Bengali Hindu and Bengali Muslim.

Map of Eastern Bengal, Assam with Bhutan after partition in 1905

Undivided Assam

Royal Global University

Going back to the down memory lane of history, three legends of Bengal accepted Undivided Assam, as another sanctuary of their activities in many occasions of their lives. Kabiguru Rabindra Nath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda choose Shillong, the erstwhile capital of undivided Assam, as second home in many of their personal occasions.

Journey of Swami Vivekananda in Assamese land

Swami Vivekananda visited Shillong for the first time on 17th April of 1901. His journey to Assam is very interesting as he took the help of horse curt and boat, together, to reach the peak of Shillong. He first started his voyage from Dacca sailing in upstream of Padma River, he arrived at Dhubri port and finally he landed at Guwahati. In Guwahati, he was the guest of Sir, Henry Cotton the founder of Cotton College.  During his stay at Guwahati, he addressed to a huge public gathering in Cotton College and also in Sonaram Filed elaborating the ethos of Indian spiritualism. Then he left for Shillong in horse curt and stayed at Laban at the residence of zamindar of Sonamganj, Kailash Chandra Das. On his way to Shillong from Guwahati, he was escorted by Raja Sahib Kailash Chandra Das and Jotindra Nath Basu.  In Shillong, he set up Ram Krishna Mission, at Queenton Hall.

The pristine green gorge of pine groves of Shillong, inspired Kabiguru Rabindra Nath Tagore to visit Shillong thrice in different occasions of his life.

Kabiguru Rabindranath’s visit to Shillong

  • Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore visited Shillong for the first time in the year 1919.  At that time, Shillong was very thinly populated. So his visit was confined to only a section of local bureaucrats and business people. Kabiguru Rabindranath, during this visit, stayed at ‘Brookside Bunglow’ situated at Umshiripi of Rilbong, an official residence of Kiron Chandra Dey, Assistant Commissioner of Chittagong Hill Track Division. Kabiguru, during this stay regularly participated in Morning Prayer daily held at Brahmo Samaj Temple in Shillong.

Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore visited Shillong for the second time in the year 1923. In the second visit, he stayed at ‘Jeet Bhumi‘, the resident of his distant kin Monisha Devi. Most of the iconic literary creation of Kabiguru emitted during his stay at ‘Jeet Bhumi‘. On the very 9th day of June 1923, the abundance of natural beauty of woody pine groves and fragrance of eucalyptus inspired Kabiguru to depict his immortal creation of Ode to Shillong – Shillongaer Chiti (Letter of Shillong).  His great work on drama Raktakarabi also bloomed beautifully from his pen at ‘Jeet Bhumi’ where, Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore stayed for a period of two months.

  • Interestingly, on 8thMay of 1923, Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore celebrated his birthday at the house of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy at his ‘Kenchestr’ residence. The queen of Mayurbhanj, Suruchi Devi was also personally present to greet Kabiguru Rabindranath on this unique occasion.
  • On May 1927, Kabiguru Rabindranath visited Shillong for the last time, stayed at ‘Soloman Villa’, which is situated at Upland Road of Lailumkhrah. It was the ‘Solomon Villa’ where he plotted his epoch making novel Tini Purush &Chirokumarar Shabha.   The young enthusiastic of Shillong staged Chirokumarar Shabha at ‘Queenton Hall’ in the very presence of Kabiguru.
  • The iconic creation of his novel Sesher Kabita was plotted in here, where Tagore found enough space for interacting with solitude of virgin Shillong.

Eve of World War II

On the eve of World War II, the heavy walking boots of Azad Hind Fauj rippled tremor across the serpentine narrow green gorge of picturesque Shillong. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was brought from ‘Mandalay Prison’ to Shillong on 12th June 1927, while he fell seriously ill in his prison days in Burma.  In a Kelsal Lodge, Netaji was treated locally by Dr. Kulin Bihari Dev under the clinical supervision of renowned physician of Bengal Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. Begum Akhtarnessa wife of Haji Moula Box of ‘Rockwood Cottage’ and Kushum Kumari Gupta, wife of Binode Gupta of Kench’s Trace’ provided him nursing and food during his aliment.

Netaji’s visit to Shillong

Netaji came to Shillong for the second time, in 1938. This time he came as a firebrand political leader in order to resist the political aggression of ‘Muslim League’. He was too vocal against Muslim League and Sir Sadullah, in public rally at ‘Asely Hall’, ‘Polo Club’, ‘Jail Road Field’, ‘Khashi Darbar Hall’,’Hindu Mission Ashrom’ and ‘Hori Sabha’ of Laban.  Netaji was given heroic welcome by the Assamese students of ‘Laban Assamese School’ and ‘Lady Kean College’ of Shillong. In ‘Khashi Darber Hall’, he was felicitated by Reverend James Joy Mohan Nichols Roy, who was the architect of district council of present Meghalaya.  Nataji was too greeted by European Society of Shillong at St. Edmund’s College.


Boundary map of Bengal Presidency

Introduction of Assamese Language

  • On the other hand, Calcutta University rendered a yeoman service for development of Assamese language and literature in its early days. Then Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, Barrister Asutosh Mookerjee was the first person, in the literary history of Assam to introduce ‘Assam Language’ as subject in the curriculum of Calcutta University in the middle part of 19th
  • The Calcutta University, which was established in 1857, had produced many celebrated personalities, who had unique contributions for the development of North east.  Former Assam Chief Minister Gopinath Bordoloi, Bishnuram Medhi, Golap Borbora, Former Nagaland Chief Minister S. C Jamir and Former Manipur Chief Minister Rishang Keishing were the products of the Calcutta University.

This is how cementing of social-cultural fabrics started in Eastern on the auspices of British Administration of Undivided Bengal Presidency (Bengal, Bihar & Odisha). Since days of ‘Partition of Bengal’ (1905), creation of East Pakistan (1947) and Bangladesh (1971) till the day of introduction of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, the eastern India is going through much ordeal, which destabilized the centuries old emotional bonding of this region.

The views expressed by the author are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.